Performance of the Year Nominees:
Sergey Kovalev (vs Eleider Alvarez)
Nonito Donaire (vs Naoya Inoue)
Naoya Inoue (vs Nonito Donaire)
Manny Pacquiao (vs Keith Thurman)
Canelo Alvarez (vs Sergey Kovalev)
Josh Taylor (vs Regis Prograis)
Artur Beterbiev (vs Oleksandr Gvozdyk)
Julian Williams (vs Jarrett Hurd)
Naoya Inoue (vs Emmanuel Rodriguez)
When discussing year-end awards in boxing, the winners in any category tend to be fighters who not only executed impressive feats, but who surprised us in the attempt. It’s one thing to see a boxer shine against an obviously inferior opponent. It’s far more remarkable when someone faces a rival of equal or greater esteem, and succeeds with style. Such moments are relatively rare, but awards shouldn’t be granted for everyday events.
For Performance of the Year, it shouldn’t be enough to blow away an over-matched foe, even one who is a top contender. The difficulty of the challenge should factor into consideration.
Above you’ll see an impressive group of nominees for Performance of the Year, high quality matchups all. But in the spirit of my aforementioned criteria, when reviewing the list, I spent as much time looking at the names of the defeated as I did the names of the victors. And to me, the name that stood out was Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
At the time of his fight with Beterbiev, Gvozdyk was the undefeated lineal light heavyweight champion of the world, and beyond that, he was generally considered one of the two or three most talented and accomplished fighters in the world at the weight. Skilled, powerful, and tough, he would have likely been a favorite over any other fighter at light heavy before October 18th. Many experts predicted Gvozdyk would emerge victorious, preferring the Ukrainian’s deeper resume, fast-paced work-rate, and slicker skills, over the raw power of Beterbiev.
Then on fight night, it was Beterbiev who demonstrated his boxing ability, landing sharp counters, defending well, and gradually breaking the champion down. Gvozdyk certainly had his moments, outworking the Russian in the middle rounds, and keeping the fight competitive. But the constant pressure of Beterbiev forced “The Nail” to expend tremendous energy just keeping him at bay. Beterbiev was patient, and lost a few rounds along the way, but was clearly the stronger man throughout. By the ninth, Beterbiev had taken control and he battered Gvozdyk into submission in round ten. With the win, Beterbiev claimed the top spot at light heavyweight, and is now the man to beat at 175 pounds.
As a performance, how does Beterbiev’s victory stack up against the other contenders from 2019? Well, as I noted earlier, when comparing the losers of each match, Gvozdyk was arguably the highest ranked. He was also a slight betting favorite over Beterbiev, something only Regis Prograis, among the other defeated fighters, could claim. In that junior welterweight tilt, Josh Taylor fought well against the best possible opponent available, and overcame a slight betting odds deficit, but the fight itself was quite close, and neither fighter took over the way Beterbiev did.
Artur Beterbiev’s triumph was the best combination of dominance against perceived difficulty. It crowned a new king in a deep weight class, and ended with a dramatic stoppage. For that reason, it is the 2019 Performance of the Year.
— Hunter Breckenridge